Memoir Writing Tenses

It’s a little bit creepy how it turns out that things about which I had only been thinking but hadn’t yet uttered aloud or even typed to anyone happen to turn up as a topic in a notification on my Facebook. The following link is one of them:

Writers Digest article on memoir structure

In case the article disappears from view someday, I will copy it in its entirety here.

5 Things to Consider When Structuring Your Memoir
September 12, 2018
by Cheryl Suchors

For some writers, structure appears like a bridge in the mist; for others, like myself, there’s only the mist. Several ingredients can be used to create a structure, like that bridge, that works for your book. You may know the answers to the considerations below right away, or you may need to experiment and discover them through the writing itself. Either way, memoir structure is as crucial as structure in fiction and no good memoir will be able to stand tall without it.

Memoir Structure: 5 Things to Consider When You’re Writing a Memoir

1. Order of Events

In some memoirs, Without a Map by Meredith Hall for example, the chapters jump forward and backward in time. This adds an element of unpredictability that both challenges and engages the reader.

Most memoirs, however, tend to flow chronologically. That is, they run through events in the sequence in which they happened. But even a chronological memoir isn’t purely chronological since the narrator is now an adult filtering past experiences through the lens of a wiser, more mature person. This is part of what adds richness to the tale.

If you can avoid a mostly chronological structure, good for you. You’ll benefit from the inherent complexity. But if, like most memoirists, you are using a chronological structure, there are still several techniques to help you avoid the pitfall of “first this happened, then that happened,” an approach that drains the life and tension from a book.

I stuck to a chiefly chronological structure in 48 PEAKS, Hiking and Healing in the White Mountains, while playing with various elements of structure to create movement and interest: storyboarding, sectioning, tense, and time.

2. Storyboarding

Basically, a book poses a central question or issue in the beginning and answers or resolves it, for good or ill, by the end. Storyboarding the rising and falling action that creates drama is a technique borrowed from film.

I learned how to use a storyboard to structure my memoir from Mary Carroll Moore, author of Your Book Starts Here. (She also does a youtube explanation, embedded below, and offers a wonderful blog on writing at marycarrollmoore.com.)

Essentially, there are five key points: the triggering event that gets the action rolling down toward the second point, a conflict or complication that gets worked through to create a rising action; the third turn which sends the action spiraling downward to the fourth point, the lowest point of the book, from which the action ascends to the fifth point or conclusion. These five points shape, in effect, a capital W.

Figuring out these five points provides the skeleton of your memoir. From there, one decides what must happen between each pair of points or leg of the W.

I wrote my five key points onto five brightly colored sticky notes and stuck them in their appropriate spot, creating a large W on a big piece of white cardboard. Each scene or action I thought belonged in 48 PEAKS went onto a sticky note. I placed the stickies somewhere between a pair of points. I moved certain bits around to even things out or build tension. Sometimes I had to create scenes to improve the flow, or delete those that weren’t integral to the rest of the book. In either case, it was easier to come to these conclusions because I could literally see the cogs that made the wheel of my memoir turn.

Once you’ve settled on the right order for your storyboard, see if it makes sense for your manuscript to be divided into parts. Sectioning can be a way of supporting your reader through the material in a way that we’re all so used to it doesn’t intrude as it guides.

My manuscript, for example, fell into two parts as neatly as an apple cleaved in half. (Not that I planned it that way.) A main character in the first half, for reasons I won’t go into here, disappeared in the second half. And that disappearance created a certain thrust for the second part.

From a story point of view, the sectioning made sense. It also, frankly, made the material easier for me to work with, since I was manipulating one half of the book at a time. I did have to go back later on to ensure themes wove the two halves together, but sectioning made earlier drafts less arduous.

4. TENSE

In what tense will you write your memoir? Present tense has the benefit of intimacy and immediacy; simple past is familiar, virtually transparent to readers, and can be easier to sustain for a book-length project.

My early drafts were written completely in the present tense because it helped me, the writer, feel again what I transcribed. But I experimented with the simple past as well and liked both ways. I couldn’t decide which to do, until a developmental editor suggested putting the first half in the past tense and the second half in the present. This idea appealed to me because, as a reader, I sometimes found books sagged in their middles. Switching at that point to the present tense introduced a novelty and a speed that I hoped would keep readers turning the pages.

Changing tenses worked because I began the book with a prologue that took place four years after the start of the book in chapter one. I wrote the prologue in present tense to establish that year as the narrative present. In this way, the whole first half was past tense because it had happened earlier. The second half of the book returned to the narrative present and took off from there.

5. Time

Flashbacks are another way to play with time and break up the chronological line. They not only add depth to characters but also create tension as the reader must wait for the story to move onward. Flashbacks were a handy device, I found, when I didn’t want to resolve a situation too quickly but wanted the drama to build for awhile.

You can also use long sections of narration in the same manner as flashbacks, breaking up the forward motion of the book with, in effect, pauses to consider a point, a whole chunk of history, or a theme. I advise using this technique sparingly; too many pauses or digressions can merely aggravate readers.

If it makes sense for your story, one can also create flash forwards, though these are typically brief and have to be handled with care so as not to jolt the reader.

Conclusion

Finding the structure that fits and supports your memoir takes effort. If you’re going with a primarily chronological order, as most of us do, a slightly playful attitude allows you to experiment, to stretch and pull the inherent drama from your story like taffy.

Above all, be patient. Persevere. If you keep at it, the structure that uniquely suits your memoir will come to you through the mist.

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Writing With A Pen

For me, there is something therapeutic about picking up a ball-point pen and watching the letters form on a fresh page, especially those first words in a new notebook. The word “sacred” comes to mind.

Whether I write via ink or through the wonders of electronic transmission, getting the words out is the main thing. Still, something about pen and paper beckons to me. Perhaps it is the relative simplicity, where no electricity or electronics are involved, giving more of a sense of creating something from my mind and connecting to the result.

bursting-heart-pen

I read an article today on the subject of writing by hand. I find it to be inspiring. Here it is.

The Simple Joy of Writing by Hand

 

Scrawling About God

Sometimes I feel like going out to my incomplete writing shed, taking a pen and notebook, and writing in big scrawling letters about how much I love God, obliterating the thoughts of how frustrated I am with everything else in the world.

Yes, focusing on my love for Him (“We love him, because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19). and what I know from His Word about His love for me, throwing in some imagination and inferences about how heaven is going to be, is what I need to do, and perhaps I will find that for those few moments, nothing else will matter.

If I could do it in crayon on large sheets of newsprint, all the better.

But then…

“Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.” *

*Taken from Frederick M. Lehman’s “The Love Of God”
(Of note, “scrawling” is not considered a proper word. Right now, I do not care.)

Unspoken Words of Passive Aggression

Because you loved me so much that you gladly did everything for me, I took full advantage of that.

Yes, I realize it became burdensome after awhile, when you carried more children in your womb and still had to work full time, but my expectations were set in place, and  woe unto you if you don’t continue at that impossible pace, because I am the king of your life, now that I own you as your husband.

Yes, I do believe that.

I believe you are trapped and won’t even try to leave me.

You’ve been through divorce before and you don’t want to go through starting over again on your own.

What do you mean you don’t feel it is fair for me to lie around all day while you work?

Hey, I work too, and my job is more important than yours.  I work manual labor, and if I don’t get enough rest, I could have an accident on the job.

Come on, don’t be silly – YOU don’t need sleep as much as I do.  Your job is right here at home.

So you’re stressed to the max.

So you’ve ended up with adrenal burnout and further stress could easily push you into more life-threatening illness.

So you make mistakes in the medical reports you type.

So they will terminate your contract if you have too many errors.

So we won’t be able to pay our bills.

All that matters is that I get to spend 10+ hours in bed, and that any hours I’m not at work I am to be on the couch with my mistress — the TV — flicking the remote at her when she doesn’t do what I want.

If you can’t survive on six to seven hours in bed, that’s not my problem.

It’s not my responsibility to help with the household chores when you are working on your paying job.  You can stay up a few more hours to complete them.  It’s not killed you yet.

I help once in awhile.  So what if it’s not consistent?  I expect you to do everything, remember?

Oh, I’ll never speak of this to you.  I know you are sensitive enough and smart enough to interpret it without me having to say a word.

And if you even try to “work things out”, I will pull a pout, make immature and unreasonable comments, and storm off, leaving you feeling worse than you felt before you dared to upset my perfect world.

What?  Someone else might win your affection?  As long as you stay here and take care of me, that doesn’t bother me.

What?  You might not always stay here?

Well, when that happens, I will believe it, my heart will be broken, I will mourn the loss of the most excellent woman to have ever entered my life, and I will feel that life is as futile as you must feel it is right now.

Two Bit Coffee

Image

Two Bit Coffee

I recently got my first PhotoShop program – Elements 11. Lots of new stuff to learn, and little time to do it.

Here is my first attempt at making a poster combining text and a photo.

I conceived this idea a few weeks ago, before I found out I’ve got adrenal fatigue. As soon as I found out, I quit caffeine cold turkey, desperately wanting to heal up, and knowing that caffeine only makes matters worse, so the part about drinking coffee will just have to be figurative, or else water can be substituted.

So, what do you think?

Missing The Most Important Person In My World

I am concerned about you.

You used to be the most loving person I had ever known.

You were so kind, so gentle, and so caring.

You loved to listen to and make music.

You loved to laugh and make people laugh.

You were so energetic.

You reached out to others to pour out the love you had.

But now, you have become so still, so silent, so cold, and so hard, like the ice that surrounds you.

Although it is of small consolation, though all else on earth may forsake you, I will always love you.

Too bad nobody knows you like I do.  Too bad they think you are depressed for no reason.

I miss you, Me.

Love from Me.

Image

“To know is not enough, oh winter sun.” ~Out Of The Grey

Copied from my main blog, at this link:  Missing The Most Important Person In My Life

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